Let’s be honest: Very few of us graduate from college knowing exactly what job we want… And often — even if we did have an idea in mind — our first gig after graduation inevitably makes us question our career path.
If anyone has had to learn that lesson the hard way, it was me.
I spent my entire college career working towards a triple major and a Master’s degree that would help me land my dream job in counterterrorism. But when I finally made to the Pentagon in a job helping government officials prepare for the front lines of the war on terror, it became clear that this line of work just wasn’t for me.
So, what’s a 20-something to do? How do we find the right job fit without making our resume look like a graveyard of trial and errors?
Jonathan Fields, founder of Good Life Project shared some solid advice with me on how to accomplish this. “Here’s the thing about your twenties,” Jonathan told me, “They’re best used to run a series of experiments designed to let you figure out the sweet spot between what lights you up, what you’re good at and what the world will pay you for.”
Of course, Jonathan recognizes the hurdles here. “Many people accumulate so much educational debt by the time they’re 22, they feel locked into choosing the job that’ll best service their debt, rather than running those experiments. Then, by the time that debt is cleared, they’ve served so much time in the career that let them pay the debt down and built a lifestyle around it, the cuffs-of-debt become replaced with golden handcuffs and fear of ‘starting over.’”
I see this with my clients all the time. With the student loan debt of college grads averaging $35,000, holding down a job that will pay those bills and keep your credit score in order often takes precedence over exploring more fulfilling opportunities.
…So, what’s the answer?
While Jonathan admits that there’s no easy answer or clear solution, he insists that single most important thing to do is “become fiercely dedicated to running experiments to find that sweet spot. Even if you have to do it on the side, even if it takes years. That way, when you reach a time where you have the freedom to truly choose, you’ve already figured out what path to walk down next.”
If you’re not feeling completely fulfilled by your main gig, but aren’t in a secure enough place financially to leave it for something you’re interested in trying, creating a side hustle is a great way to dip your toe into new opportunities without quitting, especially if you’re already thinking about becoming an entrepreneur. In fact, one in three millennials already have their side gig up and running and are reaping the benefits, and the freelance industry is more robust than ever. In fact, Millennials make up 38% of the freelance market.
One of the most powerful things I’ve come to realize as a business owner is that just about everyone knows something that other people would pay for… In fact, your side hustle might even be an activity you’re already engaged in.
After I moved to Washington, DC and landed multiple job offers in the national security arena, my college friends sought my advice on their job hunt. As I helped friends and strangers find their purpose and land more job offers, it became clear that I was living my calling as a career coach. As I continued to experiment with this niche, my business grew and I was able to leave my job.
If you want to make the jump to another full time opportunity in a different discipline, but don’t know how to get started, there are lots of free resources out there that can help guide you in the right direction, and help you achieve the career switch you’re after.
You wouldn’t make a big purchase without shopping around, so why should your career be any different? Just because you earned a degree in a particular line of work doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind.
When I think about where I’d be today if I had been too afraid to leave my job with the Pentagon, I actually shudder. Clarity comes from engagement, and using my twenties to experiment is what sent me on a fast-track to fulfillment. It is absolutely possible to find that “sweet spot” between what lights you up, what you’re good at and what the world will pay you for. How do I know this?
Because I found mine – and now I make my living helping thousands of 20-somethings all over the world overcome that same challenge.
You’ve got this.
This article first appeared on Forbes.